Remember Pencil Quests?

It was somewhere in my sophomore year and the teacher was bubbling over with excitement. "We're going on a Pencil Quest!" he exlaimed.

I raise my hand. "So, you will take us to various sites. Is it like a field trip?"

"Yep," he says. "And each site will have a page that you will read. When you read the page, you'll answer questions."

"Like a textbook?" I ask.

"More like a moving textbook," he says, "with tons of pages. Imagine that!"

"I thought it was a quest," a student says.

"It is!"

"And the conflict driving the quest is?" I ask.

"Um . . . I don't know. Finishing it, I think. But it's an adventure."

I nod my head, "Got it. Like a Scavenger Hunt. Do we solve riddles to find new places?"

"Not exactly. You have a map."

"So, I can choose my own route."

"No, the route is determined ahead of time."

The crazy part? We ran from site to site with exuberance. We were happy to be using our pencils, even if the pencil still wasn't all that social. We loved the notion of multiple pages. I look back now at the Pencil Quests and I'm a little embarrassed by it. Yet, those were the pioneers. Those were the ones doing something different.

And here's the thing: my students are excited about our projects and our problem-based learning. They're excited about plogs and pen pal networks. It has me wondering what they'll look back at and consider to be quaint.


  1. I so badly wanted a real quest. I wanted to slay a dragon or rescue a princess or rescue a dragon princess.

  2. Mr. Spencer,
    I think this is a very interesting post and I was hooked from the beginning. I thought it was also a real adventure that you were going to go on but instead it was using a pencil. I beleive that using a pencil can take you on any quest because you can go whereever you need too. I loved your blog post and thought it was very interesting and kept me wondering.

  3. Mr. Spencer,
    My name is Claire Langham, and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. For my EDM310 class, I have been assigned to comment on your blog for the next couple of weeks. I will summarize your blog posts and my visits to your blog with a post to my blog on October 21. Also, here is a link to my class blog if you would like to take a look:

    I really enjoyed reading your post, and I can relate to your description of pencil quests. As a future teacher, I hope to be able to instill a true desire for learning and exploring into my students. It is so true that something as simple as a pencil can take you to new places in an instant. I plan to teach English, so I am passionate about using tools to better the writing process. If we are able to get students excited about accomplishing these quests, I believe they will be very successful, not only in their academics but in life as well. Thank you again for your thoughts!

  4. Hey Mr. Spencer,
    My name is Sidney Jensen and I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I don't really remember anything so exciting in my high school career as a pencil quest. I think it is a fun and innovative way of getting learning out of the classroom and into the real world. I also am planning on teaching English at a high school level.I hope that I might be able to come up with something just as exciting for my students.

  5. Mr. Spencer,
    My name is Jarrod Roberts and I am a Junior at the University of South Alabama and I was assigned to your blog through my EDM310 class blog project. I will be posting about your blog as part of an assignment on February 10th. I enjoyed in you sharing your adventure and can relate it to my future profession as a history teacher. History is similar to a pencil quest in that it tells a story or recreates a certain time or place. I look forward to engaging my future students in similar activities to spark their passion for history.

  6. It seems as though you have a few spam comments Mr. Spencer.

    My name is Heather Perrin and I am a Junior at the U. of South Alabama. I am in EDM310 and I was assigned to your blog. I think that a pencil quest is something that would get the attention of my future students. I hope to make them want to learn.
    -Heather P.

    1. Thanks. I'll clean those up! I haven't been checking comments in a long time.

  7. Dear Mr. John Spencer,
    My name is Cari Raymond, and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. For my EDM310 class, I have been assigned to read and comment on your blog. I will summarize your blog posts and my comments to your blog on my own blog on April 28, 2013.

    After reading your post I can tell that you are very proud of this teacher and I too have had some that were "different" but helped me want to learn more. I moved from New York City to Alabama during the Christmas break of my sophomore year and because of it I saw two teachers teach the same subject but each in their own way. One taught straight from the book but the next teacher was as far from different as you could get. The first day she wrote all of the formulas on the board and started singing them with her guitar. It was simple, fun and it made us want to learn more; even today in college I still caught myself singing those songs. I want to be more like her, you and your teacher because you took the same lessons and turn them into something that would make the students work harder and learn more than they would have in a traditional setting. I hope that when I too begin teaching that I do not settle for what the other teachers are doing but instead try something new and show my students to keep moving forward. Thank you for all your post and what you have done both as a teacher and a blogger. You have helped many.
    Cari Raymond

  8. Mr. Spencer,
    My name is Kaitlyn Parker. I am a student at the University of South Alabama. For my EDM 310 class I have been assigned to your blog to read and comment on your posts and then summarize them for my personal blog. If you would like to visit my blog the website is

    I think pencil quests sound interesting and a great way to engage your students. I have never experienced pencil quests in school but I imagine many students would benefit and enjoy this way of learning. I hope when I am a educator I can utilize unique ways such as pencil quests to encourage my students to want to learn.
    -Kaitlyn Parker

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